SINGAPORE - Neither the passing shower nor the numerous safety measures could dampen the spirits of those who participated in the MetaSprint series aquathlon at Sentosa on Saturday (March 27).
After all, the two-day affair, which ends on Sunday, is the first competitive mass participation sporting event to be held in Singapore since sports came to a standstill during the circuit breaker in April last year, before slowly resuming two months later.
Aaron Cheuk, a 25-year-old university student who raced in the 2019 and 2020 editions, said: "Of course, some of the key elements in such events are missing. The mass start, where everyone squeezes together and jostles for position, is part of the aquathlon experience, for example, and today was more of a calm swim.
"Another thing I miss is competing with seniors and juniors from my aquathlon club because we are divided into separate sessions, but the race itself is still as fun as I remember it to be and I'm sure we can still talk about it later on."
With 1,000 sign-ups, the race was a sell-out. But unlike pre-Covid times, there was no mass start and the event was spread across two days. No spectators are allowed for the event.
There are morning and afternoon sessions each day, with each session comprising 250 participants, who take to the water in multiple waves at half-hour intervals to prevent mingling. In each wave, only two people will set off at a time in 10-second intervals.
There are several signs to remind participants to keep a two-metre safe distance, and they are also encouraged to put on their masks when not competing and to leave the venue after their race.
At the transition area and finish line on Saturday, a handful of volunteers were on hand to give directions and cheer on the participants, even if these were relatively muted.
Jolena Ang, a 30-year-old legal counsel, had waited a year before she could race in a competitive aquathlon here with her husband.
She said: "It has been a long wait because the event kept getting postponed because of the pandemic, but now it has finally happened. The atmosphere today was different from usual aquathlons because of the limitations and restrictions, but it definitely still feels good to finally be able to participate in a multi-sport event."
Xu Nuo, a 22-year-old financial adviser, said he was "very sad" to miss out on racing last year. He added: "Despite the restrictions, it was still a very good experience, and it is definitely different from training on our own as there are other people in front of us to catch up with as we gun for a personal best."
Race organisers MetaSport said that the costs of holding the 14th edition of the MetaSprint Series had increased as more manpower was required for two full days instead of the usual half a day, as well as for the larger area and additional barricades to comply with Covid-19 protocols.
Some of the costs were defrayed by Sport Singapore under the "Blended" initiative, which is part of the Government's $50 million Sports Resilience Package to help the sports industry cope with the effects of the pandemic.
MetaSport chief executive officer Nathalie Marquet said: "We are excited and happy to bring this event back, with the support of Sport Singapore and our partners, and people are definitely eager to take part, as shown by the great response. We usually have 1,500 participants, and we were not given a limit, but we felt 1,000 was a more manageable figure for a restart.
"This aquathlon is part of our MetaSprint Series that also features a duathlon and triathlon, which we hope to be able to organise for multi-sport enthusiasts in the coming months."